SE: Reininger Finds Balance in Life, on Volleyball Court at K-State

Katie Reininger came to K-State for the atmosphere of Ahearn Field House, for the radiating passion within the volleyball team and for the tightknit community of Manhattan. 

Reininger — Rhino, to most — has cherished each of those in her time at K-State, which started in 2013. Ironically, she played against the Wildcats before playing with them.   

She started her career at Saint Mary’s College, and early in her freshman season the middle blocker faced K-State in Ahearn, where her team lost in straight sets. “It’s terrible being an opponent in this gym,” she laughs now. That trip to Manhattan left a lasting impression on Reininger, who knew exactly what she was looking for when she decided to transfer.  

“I saw the band go through Aggieville when I was here and I thought, ‘I want to go to a school that has a crazy atmosphere and culture,’” the Colorado Springs-native said, then recalling her first encounter with K-State head coach Suzie Fritz. “Right off the bat she gave me this huge hug. All the coaches were, like, ‘We’d love to have you!’ and the team was so hard working and passionate. That’s exactly what made me want to come here.”

For Reininger, the move has paid off in so many ways. She’s made lifelong friends on the team while growing as a person and as a player. 

Maybe most important, she’s found a balance in life. 

Power of Poetry

Walk into the English and Counseling Services Building on K-State’s campus — the small limestone structure west of Hale Library — and take a left toward its classrooms and offices. Another left will lead to more classrooms and offices, and a unique display of creative work…Reininger’s work. 

Reininger, a senior in English-Creative Writing, received an OURCI (Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry) Grant from K-State for a poetry project she worked on this summer. 

“I wanted to get really into something academic. I haven’t had a lot of opportunities because volleyball is a huge part of my life,” she said. “I just wanted to do something more.”

With this grant, she got her wish. 

Reininger’s project consisted of connecting one passion, poetry, to a growing interest in Kansas’ geography, history and culture. To complete it, she researched, wrote and created a book in the most literal sense. 

“I spent so much time on it,” Reininger said of the 10-week project that she put in more than 100 hours on. “It was all I really wanted to do, so it was fun to really get into it and find myself always thinking about it and always doing extra work.”

For the project, Reininger visited a variety of small towns in the state, went to museums, explored the Flint Hills and checked out any other research venue she could squeeze in. All while writing 2-4 poems a week. 

The end product was a poetry book intimately tied to Kansas’ history, and a Colorado native even more engrained in the subject.

“I thought I was going to give back to the community, and in a way I did, but I really got so much back from it,” said Reininger, who also handmade the book, including its cover that she constructed out of native plant fibers. “It was a really cool experience. I just kept learning and gaining from it.”

Before K-State, Reininger wasn’t remotely interested in poetry. After taking Dr. Traci Brimhall’s Intro to Poetry Writing course, she saw the subject in a different light, one she could shine in. 

“It’s kind of a weird passion, but I love it. It’s fun, and I love that it’s different than volleyball, too,” she said. “It gives me more time to calm down and think through things, so it’s good to have that balance in my life.”

Balancing Act

Reininger’s batch of positive qualities — her constant energy, her unwavering optimism and her simply joyful nature, among many others — can be hard to manage on the volleyball court. 

As Fritz puts it, “she runs hot.” Or as Reininger puts it, “I was a super big ball of energy.” 

Especially early in her career, Reininger struggled to balance what made her unique with what the team needed at the time. 

“They’ve really helped me embrace that part of me, but helped me remember that, ‘Hey, don’t forget to breathe and don’t try to do too much. You don’t have to be everything to everybody,’ and also knowing when my personality is needed,” Reininger said. “I’m not saying not to be myself, but if the team is down, that’s when I’m, ‘Rah, rah, let’s do this!’ If the team already has it, I don’t need to add more of it.”

Reininger, a Second-Team All-Big 12 selection last season, has continued to improve on the court. She ranks fourth for K-State with 108 kills at a .322 hitting percentage, first on the team for those with over 200 total attacks. Entering Wednesday’s match against Texas Tech, which K-State won in three sets, Reininger also led the Big 12 in hitting percentage (.409) in conference matches. 

“She has gotten better as she has learned to kind of manage her energy level in a far more productive way. My Rhino philosophy is sometimes try to do less. There are very few people you’re going to tell to do less, but she’s one of them,” Fritz said. “She’s going to be one of them where you’re going to sometimes need to slow her down a little bit. That to me is probably where she’s made the biggest gains as a player. She’s learned to kind of temper her energy, temper her enthusiasm and use it in a more productive way. She’s grown and matured a great deal there.” 

Still, Reininger fights this, especially with her senior year being more than halfway over. The difference now? More often than not, she wins the fight. 

“It is weird and it’s hard as a senior because you have this frantic desire to play every game at your very best,” said Reininger, who’s totaled 75 kills and 29 blocks in K-State’s last seven matches, “but you also have to know that to play good, you have to keep this calm composure. It’s kind of balancing it out.”

The Team’s ‘Tigger’ 

Fritz, in her 16th year as K-State’s head coach, likens Reininger to Tigger off of “Winnie the Pooh.” Not only is she cheerful and outgoing, she’s also 100 percent comfortable in her skin. 

“Her optimism, her positivity, she just exudes those qualities. She’s our Tigger,” Fritz said. “At first you wonder if that’s real, and then she does it every day for four years. Her ability to make people feel good about being alive and her ability to bring joy to all phases of our lives is pretty unique and pretty special.”

Bryna Vogel, a junior opposite for K-State, said Reininger adds a needed element to the team, which hosts TCU Saturday at 1 p.m. 

“She’s a fire starter,” Vogel said. “She brings the energy all the time. She’s very positive, so that really helps.”

Reininger’s personality and the effect it has on people extends well beyond the volleyball team, too. Just ask Brimhall, who has had her in multiple classes.

“In one class when she was absent, another student brought a picture of her and put it in her chair, because you notice when she’s not there,” Brimhall said. “She stands out in every class and she’s always such an MVP. I’m a fairly enthusiastic, energetic teacher, but sometimes if there’s no student buy-in, then it’s hard to drum up enthusiasm, but if you have Katie in the class, she will get people around her to love her.”

Brimhall also recalls a recent conversation with another faculty member about their shared enjoyment of Reininger. The conversation lasted for about 45 minutes. 

“Anyone who gets her in a class is lucky to have her because she always gives everything she’s doing 100 percent and always can turn around a room,” Brimhall said. “If the energy is low, she can get everybody interested and excited and engaged and involved. She’s really great.”

Reininger’s personality is certainly unique, but it didn’t occur completely on accident. Her parents — Robert and Susan Reininger, who attended the United States Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy, respectively — instilled a discipline in her to become successful in life.

“They really helped be a disciplined person who cares about the little things in life. I get a lot of my zeal for life from them,” she said. “It’s been nice to be both an athlete and have an academic balance. My parents really provided that for me, just a balance of being good on the court but also being good off the court, in the classroom and as a friend.”